Archives for June 2007

Take Me to Tapeo

When we stepped off the quite Villeray street and up the few steps into Restaurant Tapeo, the buzz and the energy inside almost swept us back out the door again. The intimate space seemed somewhere between cozy and crowded, with low lights illuminating rich paintings of Spanish matadores on the walls. A quick glance around showed every table in the room was full- as it should be for nine-o-clock on a Saturday. From the door, we could see into the open kitchen where a handful of cooks zipped around efficiently. From behind the bar, harried waiters exchanged low words and threw a few glances our way. Shortly after, one of them approached Danny and I, confirmed our reservation, and assured us our table would be ready soon. While we waited at the bar, we munched on some pommes frite and studied the tapas menu chalked up on a board on the opposite wall.

Calamar Frites, Champignons Sauvage, Rapini a l’ail, Manchego et Serrano, Crab Cakes Romanesco, Agneau braise, Croquettes de Morue…..

The menu boasted a tantalizing selection of about twenty-five hot and cold tapas, each sounding better than the one before. I scanned the room for a glimpse of what other diners were eating, but we had arrived just as the first booking of the night was winding down and people had moved on to dessert.
Contented gentlemen leaned back in their chairs, swirling the last dreg of wine in their glass, while the ladies made one last trip to the bathroom or check their messages on their blackberry. Love-bitten couples leaned in close over the table, sharing a ramekin of mini churros between them that they dipped in melted chocolate and few to each other. Everyone seemed immensely satisfied and in no hurry to leave.
But eventually, a couple tipped their hats to the hostess and left, and our table was ready.
As we were seated, I though to myself that right now has got to be the best part of an evening out. There is the anticipation of what is to come, nothing has gone wrong yet, and you’ve got the whole evening stretching out before you. Your feet haven’t started to ache from the silly shoes you are wearing and you haven’t had a chance to wonder if the baby back home is asleep yet.
Usually, this excitement last until just after I order and then I start to second guess myself, wonder if I ordered the right thing, and the initial buzz of a night out starts to wear off.
But by the end of our evening, I could safely say that at Tapeo, there is probably no wrong thing to order.
The menu is an impressive line up of cold and hot tapas ranging from $4 to $15. While most of them have a definite Spanish influence, there are those, such as fried calamari, that would fit in on just about any tapas menu. We couldn’t pass those calamari up either and they started our evening off with a bang! Light, tender, piping hot and crispy, they were absolutely divine and helped assure us that we were in for a very fine evening. We followed the calamari with a bowl of sautéed rapini with garlic, and chorizo with a smoked paprika white bean puree and young corn. The rapini was just as good as I had hoped, perfectly cooked, well seasoned and simply delicious. The chorizo was outstanding, and I noted that it was nice not to have to pick pieces of unidentifiable objects out of my teeth after eating it! The white bean puree was a satisfying accompaniment and we made sure none went to waste, using our bread to mop the plate.

Crab Cake Romanesco
After a brief pause, we decided we could go for a few more dishes and so in keeping with our seafood theme, ordered shrimp with garlic and crab cakes.
Both were superb, although the four shrimp that came in the bowl disap
peared way too fast. I would have like to see a few more! The crab cakes were rather one apple-sized ball, beautifully crusted and served with a romanesco sauce ( kind of like a Spanish pesto, if you will, with ground almonds, paprika, and roasted peppers). I wasn’t crazy about the consistency and the middle seemed a bit cold, but the flavors packed a punch and I still really enjoyed it. Also, by this time I was getting a quite full! The room had thinned out a lot and the staff seemed to now have time to breath. When our waitress brought us our coffee and churros, I asked a question about the romanesco sauce with the crab cake. She thought for a second about an explanation, but then left with a promise to ask the chef, and the next thing I knew, the chef was pulling up a chair next to me.
I turned—
“AAAGHH! …..Hello!!!!”

Immediately I recognized her ear-to-ear grin.
We had worked together a few years back at Toque Restaurant. She had left before I did and we lost touch. How great to see her.
Danny stirred his coffee and smiled at us as we talked a mile a minute, catching up on life, jobs, babies and such. She has been the head chef at this fine establishment for two years now and I had no idea. No wonder everything was so amazing!
I left Restaurant Tapeo delighted, for I had not only reacquainted myself with a old friend that evening, but had also formed a new association with a superb tapas bar tucked away in a not-so-popular Montreal neighborhood.
And I would certainly be keeping in touch.

Tapeo; 511 Villeray St.; 514-495-1999
Ed Note: My apologies for the lack of mouth-watering photos. The tables were so close together, that I would have been disturbing other diners if I started snapping away. Plus, a girl deserves a night off! 🙂

Only for the Die-Hard Sugar Addicts: Pouding Chomeur

Pouding Chomeur or “Poor Man’s Pudding” with Maple Walnut Ice Cream

Pouding chomeur could quite possibly be the best dish I have discovered since moving to Quebec from BC eight years ago. It certainly is not a dessert that I would have been exposed to growing up, as it probably contains more sugar that I was ever allowed in a month; but that’s probably why I like it so much. Yep, I had to grow up and move away from home before I could subject my body to lethal amounts of pure sweetness–paired with ice cream too!

In case you have no idea what I am talking about, I will clarify that pouding chomeur is simply a spongy white cake baked in a lake of maple syrup and cream. The result is an ultra moist golden cake nestled in a lave-hot maple sauce; sticky, satisfying, and oh, did I mention sweet? One of the good things that came out of the Depression, Poor Man’s Pudding is made several different ways, the most common being with brown sugar and butter. I prefer to make it with maple syrup as it seems to better represent the province. Think: Quebec-in-a-bowl.

Of course, with the price of maple syrup these days they might want to think about changing the name.

I live to serve pouding chomeur warm from the oven with a bowl of ice cream to compliment it. And while you are at it, why not make it maple ice cream?

Pouding Chomeur or Poor Man’s Pudding 1/3 cup butter
½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cup pure maple syrup
1 ½ cup whole cream Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Fold in flour and baking powder and mix until just smooth. Refrigerate 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 400F and prepare 8 ovenproof ramekins. Combine syrup and cream in a small pot and bring to a boil.
Dribble a few tablespoons syrup into the bottom of the ramekins and top with a few tablespoons of cake batter. Pour remained of syrup over cake until ramekins are at least 2/3 full. It will seem like very little cake to syrup ratio, but if you put too much cake batter it will be too dry.
Place ramekins on a baking sheet or pizza pan as they may boil over and this prevents a mess in the bottom of your oven!
Bake until cake is lightly golden and syruphas thinkened, about 15 minutes. Serve warm. This recipe is adapted from Chef Martin Picard who credits Restaurant Soup Soup for the recipe.
Maple Walnut Ice Cream 1 cup shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 ¼ cups milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 ¼ cups whipping cream Spread walnuts out on a baking sheet and grill them under moderate heat for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch into a bowl and whisk until think and foamy. Pour the milk into a heavy-based saucepan, bring to a boil, then gradually whisk it into the yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over gentle heat, stirring constantly until the custard thickens and is smooth. Pour the custard back into the bowl, and stir in the maple syrup. Leave to cool, then chill. Stir the whipping cream into the custard and churn in an ice cream machine until the mixture is thick. Scrape into an airtight container. Fold in nuts and freeze until firm.